By on May 29, 2012

A driver from Scotland became involved in a six car pileup. The airbag deployed, the man escaped uninjured. Then, the airbag slowly killed him.

The airbag broke a window and got cut. Chemicals from the ruptured airbag of Ronald Smith’s Vauxhall Insignia’s airbag triggered chest and breathing problems, the Daily Record says. Two months after the crash, the driver was taken to a hospital with an infected lung. After 21 days on a respirator, Smith died. Coroner Carney said:

“I accept the death was attributed to bronchial pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis and that it was developed after this incident in November, and the deceased’s exposure to noxious substances. This man died as a result of this incident and more pointedly because of the explosion of his airbag.”

Vauxhall did not want to comment.

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51 Comments on “Airbag Saves Man, Then Slowly Kills Him...”


  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    I knew it, airbags take more lives than they save!

    On a serious note though, how tragic and bizarre.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    1st off just want to say I’m sorry the man died, it’s something of an ironic tragedy.

    now for my comment,
    So how long until a new safety regulation is passed mandating the type of chemicals to be used in airbag deployments. Cause ya know.. everyone “MIGHT” die from them. IN this day where we have to wrap everyone in bubblewrap because they might bruise, I’m curious how long until this changes and adds another $50 to $500 to the cost of each vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Yep, and who is doing the math on how many life years the movement of our resources towards non noxious airbags is really costing per life saved?

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Because we all know that money is wasted on preserving life – money is meant to be used to make MORE money.

      • 0 avatar
        Caboose

        Isn’t it odd: the same nanny State that seeks to preserve life via regulation of all types in all spheres of life “for the common good” is the same nanny State that promotes abortion and euthanasia. So what we have is preservation of life via unnatural protection from the consequences of or acts, bracketed by ends to life by unnatural acts. The left progressive hand giveth, while the right progressive hand taketh away.

    • 0 avatar
      TexasAg03

      My guess is the law will be proposed formally in the next 3-5 months. It will be passed within 5 years. Airbags will be filled with pixie dust and Unicorn droppings.

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        Haven’t you heard? Unicorn droppings contain chemicals that are “known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.”

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      The ‘adds $50 to $500′ canard is almost always false. When airbags were first mandated, people like you were screaming that airbags would add $3000 to every car’s price tag and poor people will not be able to afford cars (same as when catalytic converters were mandated, or when CFC was phased out). It turns out airbags became so cheap your tpical family sedan now has about 9 of them.

      Back to this tragic case- yes, I think a change to non-toxic gas is in order.

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        Except for the inconvenient truth that in the U.S. at least, airbags are not mandated. They are entirely up to the manufacturer. Although it is true that widespread adoption, driven by consumer choice, not government mandates, has reduced the cost.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “in the U.S. at least, airbags are not mandated.”

        Airbags are mandatory in the US.

        http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/administration/fmcsr/fmcsrruletext.aspx?reg=571.208

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Yep…I think the law states cars must have “passive restraints” in the US. Back when this first went into effect the passive restraint was generally an automotic seat belt. The market did not care for this soluton so out came the air bag which aside from ensuring cars with the early airbags had ugly steering wheels was unobtrusive to the driver unless he or she hit something.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Airbags are now mandatory in the US. Passive restraint belts are no longer an acceptable substitute.

        S4.1.5.3 Passenger cars manufactured on or after September 1, 1997. Each passenger car manufactured on or after September 1, 1997 shall comply with the requirement of S4.1.5.1(a)(1) by means of an inflatable restraint system at the driver’s and right front passenger’s position.

        S4.2.6.2 Trucks, buses, and multipurpose passenger vehicles with a GVWR of 8,500 pounds or less and an unloaded vehicle weight of 5,500 pounds or less manufactured on or after September 1, 1998. Each truck, bus, or multipurpose vehicle with a GVWR of 8,500 pounds or less and an unloaded vehicle weight of 5,500 pounds or less manufactured on or after September 1, 1998 shall comply with the requirement of S4.1.5.1(a)(1) by means of an inflatable restraint system at the driver’s and right front passenger’s position.

      • 0 avatar
        Ron

        Air bag modules cost the manufacturer less than $30.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    They’ve always had dangerous, noxious airbags in Scotland. They’re called bagpipes.

    • 0 avatar
      vwbora25

      I rearended a car in 98 and the airbag went off, filled the car with so much smoke I couldn’t see out the window. Was coughing up phlem for two days after the incident

      • 0 avatar
        Mark MacInnis

        Airbags contain methane and butane, right? So, they contribute to global warming when they fire, right?

        How to drive a liberal loony (a short trip, I’ll concede you) ….tell them an automotive industry mandatory safety regulation which saves children is TERRIBLE for the environment….

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Mark McInnis: According to How Stuff Works: Airbags use sodium azide (NaN3) with potassium nitrate (KNO3) to produce nitrogen gas. Hot blasts of the nitrogen gas inflate the airbag. The powdery residue is cornstarch to keep the inside of the airbag dry. (paraphrased)

        The original airbags in the 50′s and 60′s used compressed air, but the arrangement was found to be inadequate.

        No one in their right mind would introduce methane or butane into an already potentially explosive situation via the airbag.

      • 0 avatar

        The chemical reaction should yield inert substances. Either the reaction wasn’t complete or even inert substances when inhaled can cause a respiratory infection.

        Some additional interesting information:

        http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2681/is-there-poison-in-auto-air-bags

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Airbags contain methane and butane, right?”

        I’m not an engineer, but I’m not clear on why an airbag would contain either of those.

        There are situations in which sodium azide can be toxic. As Mr. Karesh implies, the sodium azide may have been a problem, and/or the quantity of inert substances (the corn starch or talcum powder in the airbags) could have been an issue.

      • 0 avatar
        SwingAxle

        I would think the explosive reaction would be quite thorough. That said, we use sodium azide as a preservative in chemical solutions to inhibit bacterial growth. Thus any residual NaN3 can’t be too good for the bronchial epithelial cells, especially combined with a respiratory infection.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “They’ve always had dangerous, noxious airbags in Scotland. They’re called bagpipes.”

      My friend, truer words have never been spoken!

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        “We’ve always had dangerous, noxious airbags in Washington DC also”. They are called Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and journalists.

        Sorry, couldn’t resist the temptation to vent.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Is it that hard or expensive to design and make an airbag system that’s non-toxic? Before complaining about legislation that doesn’t exist what’s wrong with exploring the possibility of a proactive fix? Even the experts around here that love to apply E201 microeconomics logic should see the benefit of developing a better airbag. And any engineers should really see the benefit.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      That’s a great attitude, and you are likely a successful person. I can tell from just that. Gratz.

      DON’T READ THE REST OF THIS!

      I am not joking, the rest is BAD for you.

      Okay, how long can we thrive as a country depending on guys like Advance not knowing about all the lives ruined when the better mousetraps are lobbied out of existence when powerful groups get their solution mandated through legislation? You are better off developing a new flavor of ice cream than a better airbag these days.

      Guys are eating their guns every frigging day in this country. How do we stop it?

      • 0 avatar
        Advance_92

        So are our airbag regulations so strict on construction and operation there is no room for research and development? I think that’s what you’re trying to say, anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        How many airbags have gone off since their inception? How many people have died of respiratory disorders due to their deployment? I think we should divert the money to be spent on non-toxic airbags to instead build houses in tornado alley that can withstand F5 tornadoes. They surely kill more people than airbags ever have. And you bitter clingers who live there in fly-over land will – will – learn to enjoy your dark dank thick-walled concrete houses….

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    There’s a slight difference between a coroner ‘accepting’ some cause and actual proof of causation. I find it had to believe that he should have been able to walk away without symptoms initially and then develop manifest bronchopneumonia two months later. It’s probably unreated. (Yes, I do have an MD degree, so no ‘what do you know’ replies required.)

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I don’t recall reading anything in the story that suggested the driver was “able to walk away without symptoms initially.” The article suggests that the gas from the airbag “triggered chest and breathing problems,” but it says nothing about when they started.

      It sounds like you may be reading a little more into this than the evidence warrants….

      • 0 avatar
        Tinn-Can

        Yeah… no… Two months later after inhaling an irritant, during winter a guy gets pneumonia? Shocking… This will definitely teach him to leave proper follow gap… It isn’t just for your reaction to the person in front, it is for the jackass behind you too…

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        Yet another MD in waiting. Great…

        How people can pass such cynical judgements based on such scanty evidence is beyond me.

      • 0 avatar
        ExPatBrit

        Maybe if there is an airbag puncture, the emergency services should treat it a specific way.

        In any auto accident there is danger of ingesting noxious substances.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        Two points.

        1. Manufacturers seldom use Azide in airbags these days. Certainly not Opel in the Insignia which Nitroguanidine (bat poop to you and me) powered airbags

        http://www.trw.com/sub_system/frontal_airbags
        http://www.autoliv.com/wps/wcm/connect/autoliv/home/what+we+do/airbags/frontal+airbags/driver+airbags
        http://www.thefreelibrary.com/TAKATA+%26+BMW+ANNOUNCE+SIGNIFICANT+AIRBAG+AGREEMENT-a016041497

        2. All airbags have holes, that’s how they work. The gas is designed to vent out of them in a controlled manner as the occupant contacts them. It it were otherwise and the bag stayed inflated it would be like hitting a big white space hopper – you’d bounce off it and probably be severely injured by the seat. Haven’t you all seen deployed airbags?

  • avatar
    fincar1

    The problem, simply stated: You need an explosive to fire the airbag in order for it to work properly. Explosives as a group tend not to be particularly helpful to human health. There’s a tradeoff here, as there so often is.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I think this one’s going to get nasty….

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Whenever an air bag activates, the dust and residual gases are vented into the cabin through holes in the rear of the air bag. The air bag is designed to inflate almost instantly and deflate as is pushes against you during the sudden deceleration that is a head on collision. So every year, thousands are exposed to the gases and dust from air bag deploymnets, but this is the first time someone cliamed to be killed by it.
    If indeed, the death was caused by exposure to the gases or dust from the air bag, it sounds like a one in a million situation.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The main purpose of an airbag is not necessarily save lives. It restricts moment of the body in the car during an accident to prevent or reduce severe injury.
    It is not unreasonable to expect flying glass in a car accident and if the bag is burst by glass the airbag cannot do it’s job properly.
    It might be an easier solution to make the airbag stronger.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Instead of changing the types of chemicals involved, could it be easier just to:
    1) make the fabric unbreakable (not necessarily tougher, but may be more elastic).
    2) make the air release through a filter that filter out harmful particles and only allows nitrogen to get out.

    • 0 avatar
      daiheadjai

      I’m just surprised that this issue wasn’t anticipated.
      I mean, in a car wreck, you would think someone would foresee the possibility that an airbag could rupture, and that maybe having noxious fumes stuffed into someone’s face isn’t a good idea?

      The threat of lawsuits and government penalties (not to mention public image) should have been a good enough economic case to forego any cost “savings” from using these gases (assuming cost was the primary reason – it might not be).

      • 0 avatar
        Charliej

        daiheadjai, People in the US don’t understand that in other countries, lawyers don’t run the country. In most other countries, suing over something like this is not possible. For instance, in Mexico, if you spill hot coffee in your lap, you can’t sue McDonalds. If you attempt to sue, the max damages would be the dry cleaning bill. Lawyers are actually looked at as assets to society here. They work on real estate law, or estate planning or criminal law. There are no ambulance chasers. As a side light, if a prosecutor brings charges that can not be proven. The judge has the option to sentence the prosecutor to jail for the same amount of time the crime called for. There are few malicious prosecutions in Mexico.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Beerboy,

    I disagree with your explanation. The main purpose of an airbag is to decrease the deceleration G forces on your body during an accident. Deceleration is what kills. I have seen the NHSTA data from crash tests in the late 90s. IIRC, they assign a value of 35 G force to the chest as the onset of fatalities due to the heart stopping. The combination of an air bag and three point seat belt decreases the G force on the torso by providing more time to decelerate between the person and the dash or steering wheel. The air bag acts as a gas cushon by deflating as it is pushed and lengthing the time it takes to decelerate your body from impact speed to 0 mph. In the ideal front end crash, the driver decelerates the same as the car which is about 20-25 Gs for modern cars with crumple zones. You don’t need an air bag for this if you use a five point seat belt with no slack, but few would tolerate this.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Yes that to. They reduce G-force by “cushioning” and limiting movement in the cabin prevents your head from smashing into things and your neck from snapping.
      I believe that newer airbags have multistage inflate and deflate systems linked to speed and impact that facilitate the cushioning affect. My knowledge on the details is a bit fuzzy but you get the gist.

      BTW an ideal front end crash does not exist because it would have, ideally, been avoided ;-)

  • avatar
    wmba

    “The main purpose of an airbag is not necessarily save lives. It restricts moment of the body in the car during an accident to prevent or reduce severe injury.
    It is not unreasonable to expect flying glass in a car accident and if the bag is burst by glass the airbag cannot do it’s job properly.
    It might be an easier solution to make the airbag stronger.”

    The bag fills in the blink of an eye (30 to 80 thousandths of a second) and empties in less than a second. Google it. Flying glass will make no difference.

    “Instead of changing the types of chemicals involved, could it be easier just to:
    1) make the fabric unbreakable (not necessarily tougher, but may be more elastic).
    2) make the air release through a filter that filter out harmful particles and only allows nitrogen to get out.”

    What, in a coupla hundred milliseconds?

    Guys, what do you imagine the hundreds, and probably thousands, of engineers who have worked at airbag design and deployment over the last 20 years do at work? Hmm…?

    I guess they sit around drinking coffee all day reading car forums to get an idea of what the armchair warriors come up with. “Ah yes, that makes sense, why didn’t we think of that, Fred?

    Words fail me. Do you take forum ideas and apply them at work, where presumably you have some clue what you’re doing and have been doing? Come on now, think it through.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The B&B are not showing either B’s in quantity today.

      The “smoke” is corn starch, the powder is packed with the cloth so it will “unfold” for a lack of a better word properly instead of being stuck together.

      The noxious dangerous chemicals created in an airbag deployment is Nitrogen gas, admittedly at a high temperature. Now I know Nitrogen gas in its pure form is fatal, but 78% of what you breathe in 20 times a minute (give or take) is Nitrogen.

      If breathing in Nitrogen and corn starch causes pneumonia, there are a lot of people in the culinary arts who should be lining up their lawsuits.

      • 0 avatar
        Number6

        Pure nitrogen is, by itself, not fatal, it’s a suffocant. It’s not even reactive until over 600C or so, unless you are using a plasma…

        Anyway, there is a LOT left unsaid in this…why the guy waited 2 months for admission, despite continual irritation, might mean he is just as much to blame as the airbag. Reminds me of the little girl that took a puck in the head and died….the parent didn’t have her checked for a concussion, and now there are nets in every NHL arena. Same logic. I might be wrong here but there isn’t much to go by in tis article.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Steady on. I never claimed glass cut up the airbag, the article did and if that is in fact what happened, I know an airbag deploys really fast but, lets just say, car accidents don’t happen in slow motion like in the movies.

  • avatar
    Towncar

    I can easily believe this. I had an airbag pop on me and whatever was inside was very hot and noxious. I was fortunately able to get out of the car quickly, but I was gagging by the time I did. I’m glad I had the bags, but I’d definitely support some research/regulation for a better type of inflation agent.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    A far more rapid airbag-caused death occurred in Denver over a decade ago. An elderly woman was involved in a collision while not wearing her seatbelt. The airbag’s deployment punched her into the rear seat, simultaneously snapping her neck and killing her. Always wear seat belts when airbags are present.

    I have no idea what the toxicity of azides are; ask your local chemist to find out what he or she knows regarding the substance.

  • avatar
    Commando

    Have you or a loved one suffered death or injury from airbag deployment?
    Call 1-800-BAD-DRUG now!

  • avatar
    vanpressburg

    The airbag kill one of my relatives.I have found on internet more cases, the airbags in Audi A6 from late 90′ used to deploy some milliseconds late and hit the person, who was already an the dashboard.
    Probability of airbag killing person is very small, overall airbags save life.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I guess this is why we need the Volvo Road Train. I stand corrected in my criticism of it. [end humor]

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/volvos-road-train-runs-125-miles-without-problems/

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Could it be that the assembly was defective, in hat it had excess powder, or that the driver inhaled glass fragments?


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